Strasburg Town Council hopefuls talk town economy, conduct

Taralyn Manuel-Nicholson

STRASBURG – Candidates seeking seats on Town Council agreed at a forum this week that economic development remains Strasburg’s biggest challenge.

Four council seats are up for election May 3. Councilman Robert B. “Bob” Baker and Councilwoman Jocelyn Vena are seeking re-election. Taralyn Manuel-Nicholson, Kimberly M. Bishop, Shirley F. Maddox and Barbara H. Plitt are also running for council seats. Vice Mayor Richard Redmon and Councilman Richard “Rich” Orndorff Jr. are not seeking re-election, though the latter is running for mayor.

The Strasburg Chamber of Commerce event Wednesday at Signal Knob Middle School drew about 40 people, including several council members. Manuel-Nicholson serves on the Chamber’s board of directors. Middletown Mayor Charles Harbaugh IV moderated the event and read questions submitted by the audience. Each candidate gave an opening statement, responded to questions and then offered closing remarks.

Questions and responses were as follows:

What features about Strasburg do you like and what is Strasburg’s biggest challenge?

Barbara Plitt

Baker said he likes Strasburg’s small-town, friendly atmosphere. As for the biggest challenge, Baker cited economic development and said council has some potentially viable solutions, including the state program RevUp Strasburg that has attracted dozens of participants. The town also needs to develop and market the business park but Baker said there’s no guarantee the money spent will result in growth.

Bishop said she likes the people of Strasburg and their passion and respects that they speak their minds; the parks; being able to know the shop owners. Bishop said the challenge is finding a way to bring businesses to town and give the perception that Strasburg wants business. Bishop said RevUp Strasburg is an important program and building out the business park is necessary but the town also needs to finish projects before it starts new ones.

Maddox said she likes Strasburg’s quaintness and its architecture. Keeping those qualities, maintaining the buildings, attracting tourists and other people to the community will be one of the town’s biggest challenges, Maddox said. Those challenges go along with economic development, she added.

Manuel-Nicholson said she liked traveling down the main street through town. She also likes how the town supports its youth, especially through sports, pointing out the purple and white balloons displayed around Strasburg. Manuel-Nicholson noted that the town needs to be business-friendly and make it attractive and everyone needs to work together.

Plitt said her favorite part of town is being able to walk down the street and strike up a conversation with another resident. Strasburg faces the challenge of keeping the younger generations in town and making them feel confident about staying and earning a living here rather than leaving for jobs elsewhere, Plitt said.

Kimberly Bishop

Vena cited the volunteers as one of the town’s best attributes. Residents need to work together to beautify the town though its beauty is in the people, Vena said. The biggest challenge remains building the town’s revenue base by bringing more business into Strasburg and developing its empty spaces, Vena said.

What experience do you have to help tackle town issues and what are your thoughts about the courtesy and conduct of our elected council members?

Vena said she spent 25 years dealing with consumers on a world stage working for an international company. Vena and her husband ran a shop in New Jersey, she added. She cited time working on council as part of her experience.

Plitt said she worked various jobs in different fields such as retail, security, nonprofits and the U.S. Navy, where she learned to listen to all sides of an issue to find common ground.

Manuel-Nicholson cited her three terms on council and currently her work as an apartment manager with People Inc. as part of her experience. This work requires thinking out of the box and fiscal responsibility, she added. As far as conduct, Manuel-Nicholson said she feels she works for the citizens and should have a cooperative demeanor when working with fellow council members.

Jocelyn Vena

Maddox said she works in theater, often with volatile people, managing costume shops and it’s a matter of knowing when and when not to speak. She said this would go along with courtesy and conduct of council members.

Bishop said her experience as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Air Force leads her to think in terms of conspiracies and to see how something enacted will turn out. Bishop said she’s been outspoken about the behavior and courtesy of current council, adding that some members are polite while others are rude, though there has been some improvement. Bishop said she hopes to listen to people.

Baker cited his nearly four years as an officer in the U.S. Navy giving him perspective on managing people; his time as an attorney that gave him insight into seeing both sides of issues; and his experience on council. Baker said he thinks council members should respect the citizens and take what they have to say into consideration but added that he doesn’t necessarily believe citizens’ opinions should be followed.

How would you define economic development and how might you assist local businesses?

Baker said economic development is having viable businesses in town. Baker said the town and council are helping to generate business and reiterated the importance of RevUp Strasburg and the development in the business park. He said the town’s greatest assets are its proximity to two interstates and Virginia’s Inland Port.

Bishop said economic development is to try to attract businesses into town and find ways to pay for that. Bishop added that the town likely will have to spend $5 million to prepare the business park for development that might require a tax increase. Strasburg needs to find ways to bring businesses into town, including those not elsewhere in the area.

Bob Baker

Maddox said economic development means bringing in new business and supporting the existing operations, putting feelers out to companies and doing research. Maddox said looking online the town could find businesses that would benefit by locating in a community like Strasburg.

Manuel-Nicholson agreed that the town can work to attract new businesses as well as work to keep the existing ones. The town can look at ways to help existing businesses through fees or taxes or by marketing and promoting their operations, she added.

Plitt said she would challenge businesses to make their employees want to live and shop in Strasburg. Many of the people employed at the industries in town don’t live or shop in Strasburg, she said. The town, she said, should encourage landlords to offer space and incentives for start-up businesses.

Vena said economic development helps the town pay for the services it provides and keeps taxes low. Vena said economic development isn’t something she can do by herself but, rather, the town has had consultants explain how the town can attract businesses. She added that the town has hired a person to work on economic development for the town.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

Shirley Maddox